I hear many people lamenting—”I wish I could take good photos but the photos I take are so crap“. Sound familiar?
Not everyone was born, or has the motivation, to be a professional photographer, but I believe if you want to create art from your photos you can. Anyone can take better photos if they load themselves up with a basic photography toolkit. It doesn’t have to be advanced and you don’t have to know how to shoot in manual.
Here are three tips for you to start taking better photos—for your blog, your family photo album, your microbusiness, whatever. The beauty of these tips is that you can transfer them to whichever camera you choose, whether it be a super-fancy SLR, a phone camera, a Polaroid or a point and shoot.
1. Learn some basic framing/composition techniques.
Composition is the placement of objects in your photo so that people looking at them will be drawn to whatever it is you want to focus on within the frame.
Perhaps the most basic of these principles and the easiest to master is Rule of Thirds—placing the focus of your photo along one of 4 planes or 4 points created by dividing your photo into thirds. The photo below has been divided into thirds and shows the subject of the scene along the far-left plane.
I have a short post on Rule of Thirds for Instagram, the same rules apply regardless of which type of camera you use. Instagram is a gift to the Rule of Thirds as it creates the grids for you while you’re editing the photo.
Hot tip: Use the Rule of Thirds to take better photos.
2. Get your lighting right.
There’s nothing more frustrating than being hit by inspiration when the sun is high up in the sky. Even on a cloudy day, the lighting is generally harsh and casts unwanted shadows all over your subjects.
Last year I attended a workshop where I learnt some remarkable tips for shooting in manual. However, when it actually came time to practise the concepts we’d learnt, it was early afternoon, the sun was too harsh and every photo I took looked crap. It was disheartening. I knew logically that my photography skills were better because of the workshop, but it wasn’t being translated to the photo and it was all because of the light!
Check out my post on Catchlights for how to use ambient lighting to get the glint in people’s eyes (so to speak)!
Hot tip: try to take photos early in the morning or late in the afternoon. The light is generally softer and more sympathetic to your subjects!
3. Decide on your Photo’s “Mood”.
Producing good photos doesn’t have to end with what you see in your camera’s viewfinder.
Photo processing software is a god-send for beginner photographers—Photomatix, Lightroom, Photoshop and Instagram filters are terrific (and easy to use). What you see on your camera viewfinder can be enhanced fairly easily by photo processing software.
Whenever I take a photo I think—”What is its Mood?”—and I can process the photo accordingly. Is it dark and gloomy? Fun and lighthearted? Mysterious? The feature image for this post is one I processed to enhance the atmosphere of a rainy Tokyo shrine, shrouded in melancholy blues and incense smoke, but with pops of colour.
I call this thought process my “lyricism”—I want the photo to tell a story and make people feel a certain way when looking at my photos. Of course you can’t control what other people feel, but you can get them at least part of the way there.
I took the following photo with my iPhone camera from the tram early one morning. I wanted this photo to illustrate my short story “Safe”, which was quite a bleak read, so the scene of a random Fitzroy Terrace needed a different mood to the one I captured initially.
To transform it into something that was dark and slightly disorienting, I:
- Turned the photo black and white in iPhoto;
- Adjusted the straightener in iPhoto so the building had a steeper lean;
- Lowered the contrast in iPhoto to make the overall lighting darker; and
- Applied the tone mapping feature in Photomatix and adjusted the lighting effects until I felt the photo captured the eerie feel. It wasn’t a science, I just played around with the settings until I had hit upon what I wanted.
Doing these fairly simple processing steps turned the photo into this:
If you want your photo to have a brighter, playful mood, play with increasing your exposure saturation and contrast settings—but don’t overdo it unless it’s specifically an effect you want to achieve! You don’t need a HDR-type processing software like Photomatix (although I do think it’s a brilliant tool to have for injecting mood)—any photo processing software will do. Instagram filters are a veritable mood gallery—you can achieve some wonderful effects on your own phone.
With these 3 basics, you can start to really have fun with photography and create some beautiful stuff. Now get to it! And let me know how you go!